The link below is to an article reporting on the arrest of a top Boko Haram commander in Nigeria. Boko Haram have been responsible for much of the persecution against Christians in that country.
BJP assemblyman convicted in two murders in 2008 violence says he’s innocent.
NEW DELHI, January 28 (CDN) — India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday (Jan. 25) rejected the bail granted to Hindu nationalist Orissa state legislator Manoj Pradhan following his conviction in the murder of a Christian, Parikhita Nayak.
Pradhan, of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was convicted on June 29, 2010 of “causing grievous hurt” and “rioting” and sentenced to seven years of prison in the murder of Nayak, of Budedi village, who died on Aug. 27, 2008. In its decision, the Supreme Court ordered the High Court to reconsider its decision to grant him bail.
Pradhan had been granted bail by the High Court on July 6 on grounds having won the April 2009 state assembly election. Contesting the election from jail, he had become a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) representing Kandhamal’s G. Udayagiri constituency. On Sept. 9, 2010 he was convicted in the murder of Bikram Nayak of Budedipada, for which he was sentenced to six years of rigorous imprisonment (see http://www.compassdirect.org, “Court in India Convicts Legislator in Second Murder Case,”
Sept. 10, 2010). He received bail within 40 days of that conviction.
Parikhita Nayak’s widow, Kanaka Rekha Nayak, had challenged the granting of bail before the Supreme Court. She pointed out in her petition that there were seven other murder cases against Pradhan, including the second conviction.
“Being an MLA was not grounds for granting of bail,” she told Compass.
Nayak’s petition also argued that, because of his position, Pradhan intimidated witnesses outside of jail. She told Compass that, after receiving bail in spite of their convictions, Pradhan and an accomplice continued to roam the area, often intimidating her.
In the Supreme Court decision, Justice B. Sudarshan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjaron wrote that the High Court should have taken into consideration the findings of the trial court and the alleged involvement of the respondent in more than one case.
“The [bail] order clearly reflects that the High Court was mainly impressed by the fact that the respondent is a sitting MLA,” they wrote. “In the circumstances, we find it difficult to sustain the order.”
Pradhan was accused of stopping Parikhita Nayak and then calling together a large group of persons armed with axes and other weapons, who then hacked Nayak to death; afterward they sought to dispose of the body by burning it.
Pradhan denied all charges against him, telling Compass by telephone that they were “baseless.”
“I have full faith in the judiciary system, and justice will be done,” Pradhan said, adding that he and other “innocent people” have been arrested due to political pressure and that the real culprits are at large.
On his next move, he said he would surrender himself to police custody if necessary and then file another application for bail.
Dr. John Dayal, secretary general of the All India Christian Council, told Compass that he was pleased.
“Pradhan deserves to be behind bars in more than one case, and it was a travesty of justice that he was roaming around terrorizing people,” Dayal said. “He was not involved in every single act of violence, but he was the ring leader. He planned the violence; he led some of the gangs.”
Dibakar Parichha of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Catholic Archdiocese told Compass that police records showed that Pradhan was a “field commander of Hindu extremists sent to kill Christians.”
The state government’s standing counsel, Suresh Tripathy, supported this week’s cancellation of bail.
Cases against Legislator
Pradhan told Compass that a total of 289 complaints were registered against him in various police stations during the August-September 2008 attacks on Christians in Kandhamal district, Orissa, out of which charge sheets were filed in only 13 cases.
Of the 13, he has been acquitted in seven and convicted in two murder cases, with six more cases pending against him – “Three in Lower Court, two in the High Court and One in the Supreme Court,” Pradhan told Compass.
Of the 13 cases, seven involved murder; of those murder cases, he has been acquitted in three.
Cases have been filed against Pradhan for rioting, rioting with deadly weapons, unlawful assembly, causing disappearance of evidence of offense, murder, wrongfully restraining someone, wrongful confinement, mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy houses, voluntarily causing grievous hurt and voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means.
Pradhan was also accused of setting fire to houses of people belonging to the minority Christian community.
The Times of India reported Pradhan as “one of the close disciples” of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP or World Hindu Council) leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati, whose assassination on Aug. 23, 2008, touched off the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal and other parts of Orissa.
Status of Trials
Expressing complete dissatisfaction in the trial system, Dayal told Compass that the two Fast Track courts are “meting out injustice at speed.”
“One of the main reasons,” he said, “is lack of police investigation, the inadequacy of the department of projections to find competent public prosecutors, and the inadequacy of the victim community to find a place in the justice process.”
As a result, he said, victims are not appropriately represented and killers are not appropriately prosecuted.
“Therefore, the two courts find enough reason to let people off,” Dayal said.
Complaints filed at a police station in Kandhamal after the violence of 2008 totaled 3,232, and the number of cases registered was 831.
The government of Orissa set up two Fast Track courts to try cases related to the violence that spread to more than a dozen districts of Orissa. The attacks killed more than 100 people and burned 4,640 houses, 252 churches and 13 educational institutions.
The number of violent cases in the Fast Track courts is 231 (non-violent cases numbered 46, with total cases thus reaching 277). Of the violent cases, 128 have resulted in acquittals and 59 in convictions; 44 are pending.
Of the 722 people facing trial, 183 have been convicted, while 639 have been acquitted.
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslim neighbors fabricate attempted murder charge after beating them for their faith.
LOS ANGELES, October 27 (CDN) — Muslim neighbors of a Christian family in Bangladesh scheduled to be baptized last month beat them and filed a false charge of attempted murder against them and other Christians, the head of the family said.
Foyez Uddin, 62, told Compass that his neighbor Nazrul Islam and Islam’s relatives told him, his wife and his two adult children that as Christians they were “polluting” society and beat them on Sept. 17 in Joysen village in Rangpur district, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Dhaka. Islam is a policeman.
Islam’s uncle, Abdul Mannan Miah, then filed false charges against Uddin, his family and three others, accusing them of trying to kill Miah’s niece, Uddin said by telephone after his release on bail on Oct. 8. The village is under Pirgacha police jurisdiction.
Uddin said his family was fishing at his pond on Sept. 17 when eight to 10 Muslim neighbors led by Islam appeared and began speaking abusively about their Christian faith.
“Nazrul told us, ‘You are polluting society by deviating from Islam. Come back to Islam, otherwise we will not allow any Christian to live here in this village,’” Uddin said.
He told them that his family would not return to Islam, Uddin said.
“I replied, ‘Invite Islamic scholars, and if they can satisfy us in light of the Quran, then we will go back to Islam. Otherwise nothing can affect our unshakeable faith in Christ,’” Uddin said. “They beat me, my wife and two sons for objecting to their proposal to come back to Islam.”
The angry neighbors then broke into his home and burned two Bibles, tore two others and ripped four hymnals, he said, and they also damaged some furniture and chairs. Their home serves as a worship venue, and Uddin said the villagers also hacked with a machete the sign board of their house church, Faith Bible Church of God.
The pastor of the church, Lavlu Sadik Lebio, told Compass that he went to a nearby police station to complain about the attack, but officers did not respond to him. He said he only went to inform police, not file a case, but even so officers were unresponsive.
“Intentionally burning Bibles was the most sacrilegious attack on our faith – how can a member of the police department do that?” Pastor Lebio said. “Those people should have kept in mind how an announcement of burning a copy of the Quran in the U.S. stirred up the anger, discontent and hatred of Muslims all over the world.”
Taken into police custody on Sept. 18, Uddin said he and his family were unable to be baptized as planned.
“We were planning to be baptized in the last week of September,” he said. “Somehow our neighbors came to know about the baptismal ceremony, and they became very rude to us. We have been living in faith in Christ, the mainspring of our life, but we were not baptized.”
As part of the attack on Sept. 17, Miah, the uncle of police officer Islam, filed the charge of attempted murder against Uddin, his family and three others that day, the Christian said.
When handing Uddin over to court, police filed a report stating that he had collaborated with people within the Christian community and that he had made defamatory remarks about Islam, Uddin said.
“In the police report while handing me over to court, I was mentioned as a troublesome Christian, but in the case copy filed by my neighbor, nothing was mentioned about me as a Christian,” Uddin said. “I was hurt by the police role.”
The police report to the court said that area residents did not approve of his Christian activities, and that there was the possibility of a communal clash. On this basis police requested he remain in custody while the investigation was underway.
According to the case file obtained by Compass, Uddin and his companions allegedly attempted to kill Islam’s sister (Miah’s niece), Jahanara Begum, sexually harassed her, severely beat her and stole her gold jewelry worth 41,000 taka (US$570).
Uddin said that Begum – sister of police officer Islam and niece of Miah – had a boil on her head that her father lanced the day of the attack. When blood continued rushing out from the procedure, her father, Azizul Muhury, took her to a nearby clinic called Pirgacha Medical and admitted her there. Later her brother Islam filed the false case, saying one of the eight accused had hit her on the head in an attempt to kill her, Uddin said.
According to the case file, Uddin was fishing on Begum’s inundated land, though he says he was at his own pond. Furthermore, the case file states Uddin was on Begum’s land at 9:30 a.m. on Sept. 17, when according to Uddin he was worshipping at his house church. The service did not end until 10 a.m.
According to the police file, Begum objected to him catching fish on her flooded land, and after paying no attention to her he eventually became furious and allegedly beat her “in a pre-planned manner.”
Uddin’s companions were said to be hiding nearby with bamboo, knives and machetes to attack her, and at some point in a quarrel, they supposedly emerged and surrounded Begum. Nural Islam, 52 – known in the area as a recent convert to Christianity – allegedly struck her in the head with a machete on Foyez’s order, according to the case file. Uddin said Islam is a rickshaw driver who was working all day and was not present.
Uddin was then alleged to have hit her on the hand with bamboo, and when she supposedly fell down, according to the case file, his brother Iman Ali, 45, hit her with an iron rod on her back. Uddin said Ali could not have been present either, as he was suffering from tuberculosis and could not walk properly due to the debilitating illness.
Uddin’s son, Shahjahan Miah, 25, then allegedly snatched the 27,000-taka (US$375) gold chain from her neck, according to the case file, and 25-year-old Mohammad Sirajul Islam took her 14,000-taka (US$195) gold earring. Uddin said Mohammad Sirajul Islam – also known in the area as a recent convert to Christianity – had lost work due to his new faith and had been forced to relocate to Chittagong district, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) away from Rangpur district, and he was in Chittagong on that day.
His father, Mohammad Farid, 42, had also converted to Christianity, and the case file accuses him of trying to strangle Begum. Uddin said Farid also lives in Chittagong district and was there at the time. In the case file, Uddin’s wife, 47-year-old Mosammat Shahar Banu, is then accused of removing Begum’s clothes. Uddin’s other son, 28-year-old Shahdul Islam, then allegedly seriously wounded her by striking her with bamboo, according to the case file.
Thus the case file charges all members of Uddin’s family, as well as three people who were not present – two other recent converts to Christianity and Uddin’s brother, he said. Uddin said he has sent letters stating the falseness of the charges to the Rangpur district administrative chief, district police chief, sub-district administrative chief, home minister of Bangladesh, home secretary of Bangladesh, inspector general of police (Bangladesh police chief), president of the Rangpur district press club, member of parliament of that area, Rangpur divisional commissioner and commander of Bangladesh’s elite force (RAB-5), as well as to the Faith Bible Church of God chairman.
The case file mistakenly identifies Uddin as Foyez Ali, and also errs in listing his age as 50 rather than 62.
Since Uddin became a Christian in 2007, some of his neighbors have threatened to kill him or expel him from the village, he said.
“In threatening us, they have also said that the government will reward them if we Christians are beaten,” Uddin said.
The main weapon of Muslim villagers opposed to Christians is to withhold work from them, he said.
“Once I used to cultivate other people’s land for my livelihood,” he said. “When the local people came to know that we lead our life in Christ, then they stopped giving us their land for cultivation. Nobody talks with us, and we are outcasts here.”
Last Christmas, around 100 to 150 people went to Uddin’s house to protest their celebration of the birth of Christ.
“Police are deployed in all churches at Christmas,” he said. “Two police were deployed at our house to avoid any kind of unwanted situation. Those two police stopped the angry villagers.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Muslim groups, city officials dictate where church can hold services.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, October 15 (CDN) — A church in Banten Province that has been in conflict with Muslim groups for more than two years was compelled to cease meeting in the pastor’s home last week in a bid to put an end to harassment and threats.
The Sepatan Baptist Christian Church (GKB Sepatan) in Pisangan Jaya village, Sepatan, in Tangerang district, conceded that it would no longer worship in the home of the Rev. Bedali Hulu but rather in the facilities of two other churches.
In exchange, officials agreed to process a temporary worship permit that would presumably remove the pretext for Islamic protests against the church, but they refused to accept a deadline for doing so. Pastor Hulu argued at the Oct. 7 meeting with officials and Islamic groups that local government officials be given a three-month deadline for granting the temporary worship permit, but the officials insisted on a “flexible” time for issuing it.
Tangerang district authorities had issued a decree on Jan. 21 ordering all worship activities to cease at the church. Officials had pressured church leaders to sign a statement that they would stop all worship activities, but they refused.
Pastor Hulu said that he had received the government order on Jan. 26. The church had permission to worship from both local citizens and Christians in accordance with a Joint Ministerial Decree promulgated in 1969 and revised in 2006, he said, but pressure from Islamic groups forced local officials to try to close the church.
Representing Islamic interests in the five-hour long deliberations of Oct. 7 was the Communication Forum for Religious Harmony (FKUB) of Tangerang City. Local officials included the Sepatan district chief, Sepatan sector police chief, the sub-district military commander of Sepatan, Civil police, and an official from the Ministry of Religious Affairs of Tangerang.
Pastor Hulu said he felt forced to accept the terms of the Islamic group and officials.
“Actually, we want the district to facilitate our worship by letting us use the function room of their office,” he said. “Also, we hope for the government to grant permission for our worship in accordance with the Joint Decree.”
A member of the Tangerang FKUB, Abdul Razak, said the talks resulted in the city and the Tangerang FKUB committing to help the congregation to worship temporarily in the nearest church buildings, which are seven kilometers (more than four miles) away in Kedaung, East Sepatan and belong to the Assemblies of God and the Pentecostal Church in Indonesia.
But those two churches use their buildings from 6 a.m. until noon on Sundays, Pastor Hulu said.
“Our congregation wants to worship between 10 am to 12 noon, because after 12 worship would conflict with family customs that are usually done at that hour,” he said.
Because of the incompatibility in worship times, the pastor said, GKB Sepatan appealed to a member of the FKUB Tangerang identified only as Zabir, who only suggested Pastor Hulu adhere to the FKUB consensus.
Although the Muslim groups and city officials were able to dictate where the church should worship in the coming months, they allowed the congregation to worship in one of the church members’ homes on Sunday (Oct. 10), as long as it wasn’t Pastor Hulu’s house, he said.
“Next week, if the local government has not been able to facilitate a place of worship to us, then we will worship from house to house,” the pastor said.
The church had worshipped in Pastor Hulu’s house since November 2008. Previously worship rotated among various members’ homes, reducing the congregation from 90 people to 30, he said, but now the congregation numbers 150.
The church has established good relationships with communities, religious leaders and local government, he said.
“First, we helped victims of the tsunami in Aceh in 2007,” Pastor Hulu said. “Second, we provided basic food, rice, blankets to flood victims in the village of Pisangan Jaya. Third, we have helped provide free medical treatment for residents affected by flooding in the village of Pisangan Jaya.”
The Oct. 7 agreement is yet to be signed. Razak said that the FKUB would draft an agreement for all parties to sign.
“If these problems can be resolved properly, then this will be a moment in history that the district of Tangerang was able to resolve religious issues, particularly related to the establishment of houses of worship,” he said.
The chairman of the Tangerang City FKUB, M. Syuro, said the meetings were necessary to forestall tensions as Tangerang is so close to Jakarta, 20 kilometers (12 miles) east.
Report from Compass Direct News
Bekasi officials unable to persuade HKBP congregation to relocate to alternative venue.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, September 23 (CDN) — Following attacks on their church leaders on Sept. 12, a West Java congregation on Sunday (Sept. 19) faced a wall of security officers blocking them from worshipping on their property as authorities tried to coax them to meet at another venue.
Hundreds of security force officers sealed off the street leading to their open-air worship site in Ciketing, near Bekasi, a week after suspected Islamists stabbed Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan, or HKBP) elder Hasian Sihombing and struck Pastor Luspida Simanjuntak with a wooden block. At the Pondok Timur location where the church had gathered to walk three kilometers (less than two miles) to Ciketing on Sunday, an official in a police vehicle announced through a loudspeaker that the Bekasi government requested they worship at the former office of a community organization.
When Compass arrived at the Pondok Timur area, there were 1,500 regular police and public order security police officers standing by, some forming ranks in front of the Nurul Hulda Mosque 500 meters away.
The official on the loudspeaker read a decree by Bekasi Mayor H. Mochtar Muhammad stating that security problems in the Mustika Jaya area were caused by the HKBP worship in Ciketing – where Islamists have staged protests in spite of a mayoral decree granting the congregation the right to worship there – and that in order to guard against further incidents, the church was no longer to hold services there.
“From now on, HKBP will hold its worship services in the [former] Organization & Political Party Building [the auditorium in back of several buildings occupied by different political parties] on Charil Anwar Street in Bekasi City,” he said.
The new mayoral decree dictating where the church was to worship was the product of a Sept. 15 meeting of the West Java governor, the Jakarta area military commander, Jakarta area police, the general secretary and the director general of the Ministry of the Interior, and the Department of Religion, he said.
“We invite the HKBP members to climb aboard the seven buses that we have prepared to take them to the [former] Organization & Political Party [OPP] building,” the official said to the congregation, which had gathered outside the Pondok Timur area building they had used for worship before authorities sealed it in June.
The HKBP congregation ignored the invitation. Muhammad Jufri, head of the Bekasi municipal legal department, then invited the congregation to board the buses. No one responded.
A few minutes later the Rev. Pietersen Purba, district head of the HKBP Pondok Timur District, along with two other pastors and two lawyers, requested that the congregation be allowed to worship at the open-air site on their property in Ciketing. Authorities denied the request.
An argument ensued between Bekasi officials and HKBP leaders.
“For our common good, both government and congregation, and in accordance with the decision of the coordinating meeting, we have prepared a temporary worship place at the former OPP building,” said Jufri, of the Bekasi legal department. “Because of this you may worship there, and while you are worshipping the municipal government guarantees your safety.”
Pastor Purba responded by requesting security for their current location.
“I am surprised that we are forbidden to worship on our own property,” he told authorities. “Our services there were sanctioned by a letter from the mayor that allows us to worship in Ciketing. We are the victims – my pastor was beaten. Are we not citizens with the right to worship in this country? Because of this we ask that the police help us with security so that we may worship in Ciketing. The congregation and I desire to worship there.”
HKBP lawyer Saor Siagian asked a policeman to open the way toward their property in Ciketing; the officer refused.
Jufri then began to read the mayor’s new decree aloud, but he had spoken only a few sentences before one of the HKBP lawyers, Sahala Pangaribuan, interrupted him.
“Sir, if you want to read, do so, but don’t prevent us from walking,” Pangaribuan said.
Jufri continued reading the entire decree.
“We heard what you read,” Pastor Purba replied, “but we don’t easily believe our beloved government, because we remember the case of HKBP Jatimulyo, Bekasi, which was sealed by the government, and then promised facilities for a place of worship. Now it has been five years, and the promise is still unfulfilled.”
The argument lasted another 30 minutes, and the congregation gave up on its request to meet in Ciketing. They were granted 10 minutes to pray in their former Pondok Timur building and additional time for congregational discussion, which was led by the national secretary general of the HKBP, the Rev. Ramlan Hutahayan.
At press conference later that day, Hutahayan said that freedom of worship was fundamental.
“We hope that every citizen will have the right to construct houses of worship to praise and glorify God together,” he said.
Bekasi officials have offered the former OPP building as a temporary venue for worship and two alternative locations on land zoned for general and/or social purposes: one owned by P.T. Timah and one belonging to the Strada Foundation. Thus far the congregation has not approved of these alternatives because they are far from their homes.
At a press conference with other Christian leaders, the head of the Jakarta Christian Communication General Forum, Theophilus Bela, said a statement by the Jakarta provincial police chief that the Sept. 12 attack on the church leaders was a “purely criminal act” was hasty.
“After arrests and investigation, it has been shown that this is not a pure criminal act, but an organized scenario with the Islamic Defenders Front as the field command,” Bela said.
He and other Christian leaders criticized government officials for closing churches and revoking church building permits that had already been approved.
“They have been passive in the face of anarchy and terrorist acts that have been done in the name of religion by groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front, the Betawi-Rempug Forum, the Islamic Congregation Forum, the Congress of the Indonesian Muslim Community, and so on,” he said.
Report from Compass Direct News
Tensions mount as congregation asserts right to worship.
DUBLIN, August 4 (CDN) — Around 300 Muslim protestors and 300 police officers surrounded members of the Batak Christian Protestant Church (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan or HKBP) on Sunday (Aug. 1) as they worshiped in an open field in Ciketing, Bekasi, local sources said.
“There were many police on guard, but the attackers were able to get very close to the congregation,” Theophilus Bela, president of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, said in a statement to international government and advocacy groups. “We are afraid that they will attack the church again next Sunday.”
He added that a protestor hit the Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak on the cheek.
Police held back the shouting protestors while the church worshiped, but at one point they allowed Murhali Barda, leader of the Front Pembela Islam (FPI or Islamic Defenders Front) in Bekasi, through the cordon for an angry confrontation with church leaders, Voice of America (VOA) reported.
Bekasi police commander Imam Sugianto told VOA that his forces were there to protect “both sides.”
The New York Times quoted Sugianto as saying that, “If the local people don’t give their permission, they can’t worship here,” but Pastor Simanjuntak said the Bekasi administration had approved the church’s decision to meet in the field, according to The Jakarta Globe.
“We demand the Bekasi administration to let the public know that they gave us the green light to conduct our prayers here,” Pastor Simanjuntak reportedly said.
The 1,500-strong congregation, established some 15 years ago, initially met in each other’s homes before purchasing a residential property in the Pondok Timur housing complex in Bekasi for use as a worship building. The group then met in the building while they waited for local officials to respond to a building permit application filed in 2006.
When Muslim neighbors in December objected to the meetings in the housing complex on the grounds that the church had no permit, officials banned church members from meeting there. As the local government had delayed the processing of its application for a building permit, the church ignored the ban, leading officials to seal the building on June 20.
Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Mohammad on July 9 said he would allow the congregation to meet in public areas or at the city hall, according to the Globe. Pastor Simanjuntak chose to move to the proposed building site, and Sunday meetings at the field in Ciketing were soon greeted by crowds of protestors.
The FPI’s Barda said the church’s insistence on worshipping at the site was a provocation, according to VOA. He also accused Christians in Bekasi of attempting to convert Muslims away from their religion, citing a recent Internet report claiming that the Mahanaim Foundation, a local Christian charity, had carried out a mass baptism of new converts.
Foundation spokeswoman Marya Irawan, however, told The Jakarta Post that the crowds were not baptized but only invited to Mahanaim leader Henry Sutanto’s home as part of an effort to reach out to the poor.
Pastor Simanjuntak’s church has now filed a case against the Bekasi administration.
“I fully support any efforts to take this to the courts,” a local Christian leader who preferred to remain unnamed told Compass. “We need to respond through legal channels and let the government know that these attacks are a gross human rights violation.”
Hard-line Islamic groups held a congress in Bekasi on June 20, and on June 27 announced their united intent to combat the “Christianization” of the region. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Indonesian Muslims Call for Halt to ‘Christianization,’” July 2.)
Bonar Tigor Naipospos, spokesman for Indonesia’s Institute for Peace and Democracy (Setara), told VOA that unsubstantiated rumors about Christians using deceptive practices to convert Muslims have fueled the anger in Bekasi. He reportedly said that Muslims believe that Christians badger people to convert and entice them with money, food or other incentives.
Pastor Simanjuntak has said that she and her church will continue meeting in the field, as they have nowhere else to go.
Report from Compass Direct News
Judges reject request to investigate links to suspected masterminds.
MALATYA, Turkey, February 24 (CDN) — On Friday (Feb. 19) judges eager to wrap up the trial over the murder of three Christians here rejected plaintiff appeals to investigate the suspected masterminds behind the stabbing deaths.
At the 24th hearing regarding the 2007 murders of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske in this city in southeastern Turkey, the prosecution demanded three life sentences without chance for parole for each defendant.
Judges and prosecutors pushed for a conclusion to the case that has lasted nearly three years. In the last few weeks the Istanbul prosecutors sent a police report to Malatya’s Third Criminal Court linking the murders to a larger “deep state” operation led by a cabal of retired generals, politicians and other key figures called Ergenekon. The judges, however, rejected plaintiffs’ requests that the Malatya court further probe into the possible links between the two operations.
In a 17-page statement, prosecutors detailed accusations against the five young defendants, Emre Gunaydin, Salih Gürler, Cuma Ozdemir, Hamit Ceker and Abuzer Yildirim, and demanded three consecutive life sentences for each of them if convicted. The five men are charged with murder, being part of a terrorist organization, holding citizens against their will and stealing.
The prosecutors’ recommended sentence is the maximum possible in the case. Plaintiff and defense lawyers are to present their rebuttals to the proposed punishment at the next hearing, scheduled for April 15.
“They requested the highest possible penalty, however, we are defeated in this case when we consider that these five guys are part of a bigger plan . . . and this incident occurred as part of this plan,” said plaintiff lawyer Murat Dincer in a press briefing after the hearing.
Dincer said the recommended sentence takes into account only the five young men and not the suspected high-level officials who planned the murder. He and his colleagues said bringing those behind the scenes to justice is still a possibility, and that therefore they would evaluate the proposed sentence and make their petition accordingly.
“The trial is important in the sense that we expected such a penalty, but we did not want them [prosecutors] to stop searching for connections with Ergenekon,” said plaintiff lawyer Erdal Dogan.
Over the last three years, plaintiff lawyers have presented volumes of evidence showing how the Malatya murders were just one operation in a series of many targeting the country’s Christian minorities in an effort to destabilize the current Islamic-leaning government.
On behalf of the team of plaintiff lawyers, Dogan told judges in court that research into a recent indictment over a stash of military artillery found on the property of a foundation in the Istanbul suburb of Poyrazkoy showed there were links to violent attacks against Christians. He cited the 2006 murder of Catholic priest Andreas Santoro in Trabzon, the kidnapping of a Syrian Orthodox priest in Mardin, the stabbing of a priest in Izmir and threats against the pastor of the Protestant church in Samsun all in the last three years.
The Poyrazkoy indictment took place within the context of the Ergenekon probes. The murder of the Armenian Christian editor of Agos in Istanbul three months before the April 18, 2007 Malatya murders has also been linked to the Ergenekon investigation.
Dogan speculated that the court decision to start bringing the trial to a close without further probes into Ergenekon links may have sprung from last week’s decision by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors to disqualify four prosecutors in Erzurum in a judicial power struggle over other investigations into the alleged clandestine operation.
“It may be that the prosecutors are nervous because of that,” said Dogan. “Because among those implicated in Malatya is an army commander, a gendarmerie commander, soldiers and professors, so it may have made them nervous in that sense. That’s why they want to drop it at this point.”
Plaintiff lawyers said that the latest decisions do not necessarily mean the end of investigation into the links between Ergenekon and the Malatya murders. If by the end of the Malatya murder case the Istanbul prosecutors have not outlined an action plan directing the court to pursue Ergenekon leads and the case is closed, plaintiff lawyers said they are ready to take the case to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
“But of course we wish those connections would be made here,” said Dogan.
Report from Compass Direct News
Holding convert from Islam without formal charges since May, police seek ‘terrorism’ evidence.
NAIROBI, Kenya, February 18 (CDN) — Prosecutors and police are trying to concoct a terrorism case against an Ethiopian convert from Islam who has been jailed since May without formal charges, Christian leaders said.
Bashir Musa Ahmed, a 39-year-old Ethiopian national, was arrested on May 23 when police found him in possession of eight Bibles in Jijiga, capital of Ethiopia’s Somali Region Zone Five, a predominantly Muslim area in eastern Ethiopia. Zonal police arrested him after he was accused of providing Muslims with the Somali-language Bibles, sources said, though Ethiopia’s constitution protects such activity.
A state official joined Christian leaders in stating that Islamist interests have kept Ahmed in jail in spite of the state’s failure to find any legitimate charge against him. Initially the Christian was arrested for “malicious” distribution of a version of the Bible that is widely available in Ethiopia and is commonly used by Somali Christians inside and outside of the country.
Unable to mount a case rooted in Islamist accusations with no legal bases, authorities have turned toward the terrorism charge as a new tactic, Christian leaders said. Police have submitted the terrorism charge to prosecutors, prompting the prosecutors last month to ask police to find some evidence for the accusation, according to a church leader.
“Police have submitted their investigation results to the prosecutor’s office accusing Bashir of terrorism,” said the church leader. “We heard that the prosecutors asked police to solidify their accusations with evidences of Bashir’s connections [to a terrorist group, and to specify] which terrorist group. Prosecutors seem to feel they need to have some evidence to charge him with terrorism.”
Church leaders said they have received reports of authorities beating Bashir in jail.
“We repeatedly asked prison officials to take him to the hospital, and they are not willing to do so,” said the church leader. “We are only allowed to talk to him for few minutes in the presence of onlookers. We take food for him, and we don’t know whether it reaches him or not.”
The church leader said law enforcement officials are receiving pressure from tribal and Islamic religious leaders.
“We have visited a number of officials in the region – the regional state president, the chairman of security forces and others, and they openly told us that they don’t want to dismay the public by releasing Bashir,” he said. “Some of the officials were saying to us that it is not right to translate the Bible into the regional state language and cultural context.”
A Christian worker in Addis Ababa said a regional state official of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front who has close ties with authorities said that Ahmed was about to be released at one point, as prosecutors were unable to find any chargeable offense against him.
“I was almost sure he would be released within days,” at least on bail, the official told the Christian worker, but “other issues came into play to influence the turn of events.”
The official recalled participating in meetings in which regional state officials brought together all tribal and religious leaders in Somali state, he said.
“I heard the regional state leaders say that they are directly handling Ahmed’s case to protect the religion and culture of Somalis,” he said. “It was enough for me to realize that Ahmed’s case involved a different agenda.”
The Ethiopian constitution guarantees freedom of religion, the official told the Christian worker.
“This is not the communist regime’s time,” he said. “Everyone has the right to follow and practice the religion of his choice. Ahmed shouldn’t be in jail for a single day. I suspect that the regional leaders are using Ahmed’s case for other purposes.”
Ethiopia’s constitution, laws and policies promote freedom of religion, but occasionally local authorities infringe on this right, according to the U.S. Department of State. An estimated 40 to 45 percent of Ethiopia’s population belongs to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, evangelical and Pentecostal groups make up another 10 percent, and about 45 percent of the country’s people are Sunni Muslim, according to the report.
Held without a court appearance for several months, Ahmed has been repeatedly denied bail as police continued to ask the court for more time to carry out investigations. At one hearing, sources said, a judge in Dire Dawa asked what crime Ahmed had committed; the prosecutor responded that Ahmed was trying to perpetuate a religious clash in the region.
Prosecutors have repeatedly opposed the defendant’s pleas for bail with the argument that the case is a “very high sensitive matter with a potential to instigate religious instability.”
“Ahmed’s case is still pending and seems beyond legal proceedings,” said the Christian worker. “We have tried every possible way, and all didn’t work.”
Powers and Authorities
Bordering lawless Somalia, Ethiopia’s Somali state sees sporadic instability in various areas, and sources said federal officials appear reluctant to take action that could diminish trust with tribal and religious leaders.
An Ethiopian national, Ahmed is known as a bold preacher of Christianity and is credited with opening discussion of the two faiths between Christian and Muslim leaders. He is well-known in the area as a scholar of Islam.
The Christian worker said he has spoken to the speaker of the House of Federation in Addis Ababa, asking that he intervene; he has also brought the matter to the attention of the national security adviser to the prime minister. The adviser said he was unhappy with the handling of Ahmed’s case and promised to come back with some answers within a week.
“This one too just disappeared,” the Christian worker said. “It seems to me that we are only left with the exceptional intervention from God.”
He said a ministry representative in the region has visited the police commander in Somali state to ask why Ahmed has been kept so long without trial. The commander was not responsive, he said.
“When he was challenged that it was Ahmed’s constitutional right to get formal court proceedings, the commander abruptly responded that the constitution was second to his Islamic faith,” the worker said. He added that state authorities, unlike in other areas, are acting according to their personal will rather than the law.
A church leader following the case in Jijiga said that even after many months in prison, Ahmed was fervently telling about faith in Christ to other inmates. “He is zealous to reach his tribe’s men,” said the church leader.
A conviction on terrorism charges would bring him a harsh sentence, he said.
“Bashir has an indefinite and uncertain future,” he said. “Pray for him.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Outside agitators torch structures; Christians have waited years for building permits.
JAKARTA, Indonesia, January 29 (CDN) — Suspected Islamic extremists burned two church buildings under construction in a village in North Sumatra on Jan. 22.
The attackers came from outside the area to burn the partially constructed buildings of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan Church (HKBP) and the Pentecostal Church (GPdI) in Sibuhuan village, Padang Lawas Residency, during daylight hours, said the Rev. S. Lubis of the HKBP church.
“It was a quiet day when suddenly hundreds of people arrived on motorcycles and burned the empty church,” he said. “After that, the mob moved 200 meters down the road and burned the empty Pentecostal church.”
No people were hurt in the fires. Lubis said that those who burned the church buildings were not from the area.
“We didn’t know any of the mob who burned the church,” he said. “When we asked our neighbors, they didn’t know them either, and they did not help burn the church.”
Lubis said that his church had been worshipping at the site since 1970, and that in 1981 they had erected a simple structure. In 2009 – after local officials had held up an application for a permit to erect a permanent building for five years – the church began construction. Area Muslims stopped the construction before it was finished.
“All this time we never had problems with the local citizens,” Lubis told Compass by telephone. “Outside agitators provoked the local people to reject the church.”
The Rev. Marolop Sinaga, HKBP district pastor for south Tapanuli, told Compass that church officials held a meeting in December with the local Indonesian Muslim Leaders Council and the Padang Lawas government. The Muslim leaders demanded that construction stop because no building permit had been issued.
The church complied and stopped construction, even though the building permit had been in process for five years, Sinaga said. Later local Muslims demanded that church dismantle the parts that had been built, to which the church agreed.
The dismantling of the partial construction began on Jan. 13 but apparently did not proceed fast enough for the mob that gutted the two church buildings, Sinaga said.
The HKBP church in Sibuhuan has 272 members. Members of the congregation have been traumatized and many have fled fearing for their safety, church leaders said.
The Rev. Charles Hutabarat of the Pentecostal Church said his congregation began worshipping in homes in 1990. Having waited three years for their permit to be approved, they were in the middle of their building program, he said.
“Because the local citizens had approved the presence of the church, we were surprised that our church was burned like this,” Hutabarat told Compass.
The head of Padang Lawas Residency, Basyrah Lubis, told Compass that the government will facilitate the granting of building permits for houses of worship.
“We have met with other residency leaders such as the police chief, the military commander, the department of religion officials, and other Padang Lawas leaders, and we have decided to process the building permit applications quickly,” he said. “Also, the two churches will be moved; we are searching for a location which will be free of problems in the future.”
Lubis also said he would guarantee the safety of the congregations.
“In addition, we are going to form an Interfaith Harmony Forum for the residency, because we have never had one previously,” he said. “By Feb. 15, this forum will be established. In the meantime, the two congregations will hold services in member homes.”
Report from Compass Direct News